Turkey-backed rebels launch offensive on Idlib jihadists


After his speech, Erdoğan was asked about whether Turkish soldiers entered Idlib for the operation, to which he replied by saying that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is carrying out the operation for now.

Turkey, Russia and Iran agreed earlier this year to create a series of "de-escalation" zones in Syria, including Idlib, as part of moves to end the Syrian civil war.

"We will continue to take other initiatives after the Idlib operation".

Earlier in the day, Erdogan announced to launch a "serious operation" in Syria's Idlib, while Turkey and Russian Federation jointly plan to set up "de-escalation" zones in Syria.

During his speech, Erdoğan said that the operation in Idlib is the follow-up of the Euphrates Shield Operation in northern Syria, which was launched on August 24, 2016, in a bid to clear Turkey's border from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and stop the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) from merging its Kobane and Afrin cantons.

The operation is part of a de-escalation deal agreed between Turkey, Iran, and Russian Federation, and will involve Syrian rebel groups crossing into Idlib supported by Turkish soldiers from inside Turkey.

Tahrir al-Sham is spearheaded by the former Nusra Front, which was al Qaeda's Syrian branch until past year, when it changed its name and broke formal allegiance to the global movement founded by Osama bin Laden.

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Erdogan said Turkey would not desert civilians in Idlib and would not allow a "terror corridor" in northern Syria.

Russia, along with Iran, is the key backer of President Bashar al-Assad and Moscow's military intervention inside Syria is widely seen as tipping the balance in the conflict.

It said in the statement that Idlib would "not be a picnic" for them and added "the lions of jihad and martyrdom are waiting to pounce".

Reports suggest a large military deployment on Turkey's southern border and residents near the Bab al-Hawa crossing told Reuters that a section of frontier wall had been removed.

Turkey has been one of the biggest supporters of rebels fighting Assad during the six-and-a-half year war, but its focus has evolved from ousting him to securing its border.

"The fighters number in the thousands and there are Turkish soldiers participating", he added, without giving further details.